There are many situations where it’s hardly imaginable to take photos without a tripod. But there are several types of them, and you may find it hard to choose the one that best suits your needs. Or you’ve already bought it only to realize it isn’t really ideal for you. This is why photographer Joe Edelman breaks down the types of tripods and their uses, which should make it easier for you to make the decision. He also shares some useful tricks for using them, which will further help you get the best out of your photos.
Joe mentions a couple of situations when using a tripod is essential: shooting in low light or at night, shooting landscape, or the series of frames to stitch in a panorama or an HDR image. Timelapse, astrophotography and video shooting are hard to imagine without a tripod. And if you want to avoid selfie sticks, you’ll also need a tripod for better self-portraits.
While there are many types and brands of tripods, there are 5 basic groups we can divide them into.
5 basic groups of tripods
1.Pocket tripods: they’re very small and lightweight, easy to carry and support a smartphone or a compact camera. They’re mainly used for self-portraits and group shots, and you can easily carry them around when you’re traveling.
2. Table top tripods: they enable you to put them on a flat surface, and they’re also light, small and easy to pack. They’re also used for self-portraits and group shots, but they can also come in handy for macro, nature and travel photography. They’re excellent for low camera angles, and they also support small cameras like the pocket tripods.
3. Travel tripods: when extended, they usually go up to your eye level. When collapsed, they’re easy to carry and can fit in most carry-on luggage (if they’re up to 22 in long when collapsed). They support a film or digital SLR camera with a kit lens or a modest zoom lens, but you shouldn’t use them with long zoom lenses as they can tip over. They’re useful on travels, but also for nature and sports photography and amateur video work.
4. Medium duty tripods: this is kind of a crossover between lightweight travel tripods and studio tripods. They reach the eye level or higher and you can modify them with separate heads. They’re heavier and sturdier than the travel tripods, so they can support longer zoom lenses and even medium format cameras.
5. Studio tripods: they are big, sturdy and designed for specific needs. You’ll almost always use them with a specialized heads. They’re designed to handle medium and large format cameras, and used for studio, still life and advertising photography.
Despite the different groups of tripods, Joe explains that there are eight features that are common to all of them. The better you understand them, the easier you’ll choose the best tripod for you.
8 common features of tripods
1.Collapsed size: how long the tripod is when everything is folded up. This is important if you’re traveling and/or need to pack a tripod in a bag, case or suitcase
2. Maximum height extension: how long the tripod will be when everything is fully extended
3. Load capacity: maximum weight a tripod had can handle. This is why you need to know how much your camera weighs with its heaviest lens and accessories such as the speedlight. If you load more weight onto the tripod, risk breaking it, or collapsing and causing damage.
4. Weight: how much the tripod itself weighs.
5. Head type: there are three types of tripod heads – pan-tilt heads, ball heads and gimbal heads. No matter which type you use, make sure it has quick release so you can quickly remove the camera from a tripod if you want to take some handheld shots.
6. Feet: depending on the model, tripods can have rubber non-slip pads or spikes. The rubber pads are mainly used for indoor and some outdoor shooting, while the spikes best for outdoor shooting. Depending on the tripod brand and model, you may be able to add wheels or even ball bearing feet.
7. Leg locks: leg locks are most commonly either twist types or lever locks. With twist types, you twist the leg to pull it out, and then twist it in reverse to lock it. On lever locks you open a lever to pull a leg out, and close it to lock the leg.
8. Common material: the most common material is aluminum, because it’s lightweight and non-expensive. There are also carbon fiber tripods, which are extremely durable and lightweight, but they are more expensive. There are also cheap plastic tripods, which are usually not of very good quality, but they can be good for a start.
10 tips for choosing and using a tripod
1.Buy a tripod that matches your height. This way you won’t have to bend to look into the viewfinder. Generally, the viewfinder should be at your eye-level (unless you’re adjusting it for some creative camera angles)
2. Explore camera angles before setting up the tripod. It’s easier to move the camera around and change lenses if necessary while it’s not on the tripod yet.
3. Only extend the tripod legs when needed. The less you extend the legs, the sturdier the tripod will be. Also, make sure to extend the thickest part of the legs first.
4. Avoid extending central column. Extend the legs first, because this makes the tripod sturdier. Only think of the central column as the last resort.
5. Face a single tripod leg toward the focal point of your composition. Having two legs on the back side will add more stability
6. Add some weight to the tripod using the central hook. This will give you more stability in windy conditions (just remember Mathieu Stern’s mistake), or if your tripod is too lightweight for the gear you placed on it.
7. Don’t move your tripod with your camera attached. Small movements are okay, but if you’re working on location and on uneven terrain, you risk the camera tipping over.
8. Turn off image stabilization (IS) and/or vibration reduction (VR) to avoid the effect of camera shake.
9. Use the mirror lock-up feature of your DSLR. The shake of your camera’s mirror can be obvious if you’re shooting at slow shutter speeds.
10. Use a 2-second timer or a remote shutter release. This will reduce the camera shake caused by you pressing the shutter.
For me personally, this video cam at the right moment. I’ve been trying to choose a new tripod for a while, and I’d never imagine how complicated it is to choose the ideal one. As Joe says, it’s definitely not the most fun piece of gear to spend money on, but it’s an important one. And his video makes it easier for me to figure out what exactly I need. I hope it has helped you, too.